By Angela Benfield

Volume 16 • Issue 24 |November 11 – 17, 2003

Retired teacher continues fight for more schools

He’s a member of Community Board 1, and serves as chairperson of its youth and education committee. He’s on the co-op board of directors at Southbridge Towers. He’s on the board of trustees for the proposed private Downtown School. And, you can see his photograph on the Health Department’s poster encouraging people to join a registry that will track the effects of the Sept. 11th attack. Who is this energetic man? He’s retired teacher Paul Hovitz, and when he’s not busy advocating for the Downtown community, he trades coins and currency on eBay.

“I’m more busy now than when I was working,” Paul says, as he takes a sip of coffee at Starbucks on Park Row, a street that was blocked to pedestrians and city buses by the New York City police department following 9-11, and a street upon which he rallied just months ago to speed up the re-opening.

So how did this kid from Brooklyn become one of Lower Manhattan’s most industrious proponents? Because a decade ago, Paul Goldstein, his friend and district manager of C.B.1, asked him to.

“He said it would be two meetings a month…that’s how they get you,” Hovitz says jokingly. But, he doesn’t seem to shy away from the work. As a matter of fact, he appears to love it, missing only one meeting in all of his time on the community board although he claims, “I’m not really a political type person.” With his direct form of communication and dislike of wavering opinions, he considers it rude to be labeled as a politician. Nevertheless, he respects and gets along with many of our local politicians, including City Councilmember Alan Gerson and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

One of Hovitz’s accomplishments is his participation in the creation of PS/IS 89, Battery Park City’s elementary and middle school on Warren and West Sts., which Paul refers to as a “major coup.”

“Everything fell into place unusually well,” says Hovitz. However, he was dissatisfied with the decision of Community School District 2 to open the middle school to the entire district, instead of making it a zoned, neighborhood school. “You’d think this is college,” Hovitz says, referring to the rigorous process of touring and interviewing that children and parents must go through to get into a middle school. “I can understand doing that for high school, but middle school? They’re still babies.”

Hovitz and C.B. 1 officials have been lobbying for a new public elementary and middle school to be located on Nassau and Spruce Sts., on a site owned by N.Y.U. Downtown Hospital that is currently being used as a parking lot. Last week, the city announced plans to build three new pre-K-8 schools to District 2, a few days after Gov. George Pataki said one of them should be in Lower Manhattan. But, unlike I.S. 89, Paul wants the new intermediate school to give admissions preference to local students.

Tom Goodkind, a fellow community board member, credits Hovitz with making the new Millennium High School a high-performing neighborhood school.

The two met when both of their daughters started sixth grade together at I.S. 89 three years ago. They would frequently discuss issues surrounding the community and Hovitz encouraged Goodkind to join C.B.1. “When I met Paul I knew that his head, heart and politics were in the right place,” says Goodkind. “I don’t think you can get a better advocate for our community’s children than someone who has been a teacher in the New York City public school system for 34 years.”

Paul was a special education teacher at Richard Hungerford School, P.S. 721R in Staten Island and was honored as teacher of the year in 1998. He loved his job so much that he put off retirement, although he would have earned more from his pension than he did from his salary.

Then came Sept. 11th. Paul could not get back into Lower Manhattan to be with his family for over twenty-four hours. “I wanted to be at home with them,” he says of his decision to finally retire last year at the age of 56. “My motivation in all cases is the love of my wife and daughter.

Spending time with his family and working for the community are not Paul’s only interests. He has been a numismatist since he was a child – he caught the coin collecting bug when his grandparents gave him his first Morgan silver dollar. Recently, Paul has converted this hobby into a part time career, spending between three and four hours each day on his computer, buying and selling collectable currency that dates back as far as 1862.“It’s wonderful to turn something you love to do into a business,” Paul says.

Of his many achievements, you can tell by the way Hovitz’s face lights up when he talks about his daughter that his role as father is the one he is most proud of. When asked about his relationship with Helaina, who is a freshman at Baruch High School, he smiles and gives a reply that sums it up in three words: “Well…she’s 14.”

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